NEW ORLEANS >> The statue of the Confederacy’s president had been hoisted from its stone pedestal in the pre-dawn hours and the blue glint of police lights was still visible two blocks away outside the corner laundromat where Carol Patterson sat as diverted rush-hour traffic rolled by.
“It’s entertaining,” Patterson, 74, said of the hubbub surrounding the Wednesday morning removal of the statue from the busy New Orleans street that still bears the name Jefferson Davis Parkway. Police on horseback stood sentry nearby, in the event of demonstrations.
Patterson, who is white, has taken part in anti-racism demonstrations and doesn’t share the reverence some white Southerners hold for Confederate figures. But she thinks Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s initiative to remove four monuments to Confederate-era figures was a mistake.
“It’s history. You can’t change history. The Holocaust happened. They built a China wall,” she said. “You can’t destroy history.”
Troy Banks, a 53-year-old black man who shared a bench with her was equally dubious and critical of protesters on both sides of the issue. He hopes Landrieu makes good on a pledge to ensure that the monuments wind up in a museum or some other place where they can be viewed in a historical context. “That would be beautiful,” he said.
Opinions among New Orleans residents vary and are nuanced when it comes to Landrieu’s move but the mayor has remained insistent — even amid blistering criticism from some allies — since he first pushed for the monument’s removal in 2015.
“Today we continue the mission,” Landrieu said in a statement on the Davis statue. “These monuments have stood not as historical or educational markers of our legacy and segregation, but in celebration of it.”
Landrieu, the first white mayor of mostly black New Orleans since his father Moon held the job in the 1970s, called for removal of the monuments amid the lingering emotional aftermath of the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church. The killer, Dylann Roof, was an avowed racist who brandished Confederate battle flags in photos. The slayings re-charged the debate over whether Confederate emblems represent racism or an honorable heritage.
Davis’ statue was the second of four monuments to the Confederate era that the City Council, at Landrieu’s behest, voted 6-1 to take down. After legal battles delayed the work, the first — a granite obelisk honoring whites who rebelled against a biracial Reconstruction government — came down late last month.
THE WHITE REBELLION
That granite obelisk, erected in 1891, was the least prominent of the monuments. But to some it was the most objectionable. It commemorated what came to be known as the Battle of Liberty Place, in 1874 — a rebellion by whites who battled a biracial Reconstruction-era government in New Orleans. An inscription extolling white supremacy was added in 1932.
It had been tied up in legal battles over efforts to remove it since at least the 1980s. It was moved from busy Canal Street to a more obscure location in the 1990s, with a plaque calling for racial harmony.
Unveiled in 1911, the memorial to the Confederacy’s only president was in the Mid-City neighborhood on a broad green space splitting Jefferson Davis Parkway at its intersection with Canal Street, a major route into the Central Business District. The monument, an estimated 18 feet tall, had a bronze likeness of Davis standing astride a tall stone pedestal.
GEN. P.G.T BEAUREGARD
Beauregard commanded the attack at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, that marked the outbreak of the Civil War. A massive bronze likeness of him on horseback sits at a traffic circle near the entrance to New Orleans City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art. It’s been there since 1915, and a last-ditch legal effort to prevent its removal is continuing. A state judge on Wednesday refused to grant an injunction blocking its removal, rejecting arguments that it belongs not to the city, but to an independent agency overseen by the state.
GEN. ROBERT E. LEE
It is easily the most prominent of the statues: Lee standing, in uniform, arms crossed defiantly, looking toward the northern horizon from atop a roughly 60-foot-tall pedestal. Unveiled in 1884, the monument is on a mound at a traffic circle — Lee Circle — that splits historic St. Charles line and the rail line on which 1920s-era streetcars rumble by.